‘Integration’ or ‘Social Cohesion’ – which will it be?

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Analysts have concluded that the notion of ‘multi-culturalism’ led to Britain looking more like a ‘community of communities’. Since then the government was still getting to grips with the routine levels of immigration when emergency migration to Europe began. It seemed to destroy any hope of healthy inclusion. Since then the debate is over what we should be aiming for – “integration” or “social cohesion”? What is the difference and is either actually achievable? 

Some argue that that migration should be stopped or drastically reduced (1). They cite the riots of 2001, which highlighted the fact that British communities often live an oil and water existence – never the twain shall meet. Blackburn for instance is now seen as “bi-cultural” with Pakistani and Caucasian Brits living almost parallel lives in the same city.

A Labour government report by Ted Cantle proposed that to achieve ‘integration’, incoming migrants to Britain should be required to swear an oath of loyalty to Britain. The present Conservative government recently commissioned a further report by Louise Casey, which confirms the existence of ‘parallel communities’ and also suggests an oath of loyalty – on arrival.

Casey cites the existence of sharia courts in Britain, which seem to ignore marital rape and condone wife-beating and forced-marriage. The Muslim Council of Britain criticised the Casey report for assuming that ‘white’ Britons bore no responsibility for lack of integration.

Angela Merkel, who was damaged by the open-door policy admitting migrants to Germany recently said that if re-elected later this year, she will ban the wearing of the burqa in public ‘wherever legally possible’. This comes six years after she declared multi-culturalism to be a failure.

Germany and France continue to debate ‘headwear’ while areas of their two countries are seen as changing ‘beyond recognition’. But this poses the question of whether history will judge this generation for being aware of the challenge, while doing so little about it.

Others come at this out of ‘left-field’ to question this analysis of the problem of ‘integration’ (2). The aim of integration is that the first generation ‘assimilates’; the second generation ‘integrate’ (i.e. become more like the indigenous people); and the third generation are indistinguishable from others, no matter what cultural and religious heritage they are from. The only remaining difference is supposed to be their ethnic appearance.

Giles Fraser asks provocatively:

‘Why should people of other cultural backgrounds integrate? It’s their distinct character that makes their community what it is. What a miserable grey one-dimensional place the world would be if the only acceptable way of life became the dominant model of middle-of-the-road liberal secular capitalism.’

‘Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has berated people for not embracing British ‘shared values’; the expectation being that of the Star Trek villains – the Borg – who travel the universe forcibly subsuming other cultures, adding people’s biological and technological distinctiveness to their own.’

Fraser insists: ‘Integration is not just be a dash of colour and spice added to a bland Anglo-Saxon heritage; nor a calendar of exotic festivals and some religious fancy dress?’ Having a different way of life, or seeing the world in a different way – God forbid!’

Surely the preferable aim is not merely to be ‘integration’ nor ‘assimilation’ nor ‘toleration’ but the higher bar of ‘social cohesion’. This is the sort of environment in which we can affirm our cultural differences seeing them – not so much as a threat or quaint but – as a means of societal enrichment and so a cause to celebrate our common humanity under British law.

The problem is of course, that the mental blockage to ‘social cohesion’ is deep-rooted in suspicion, stereotypes and fear of ‘the other’. From conversations I have had with parliamentarians at Westminster, it seems that – despite the government’s sense of urgency for social cohesion to be achieved – it may yet take another generation (or two?) to fully realise it.


(1)    ‘Immigrant oaths can’t work when integration already looks doomed’, Douglas Murray, The Times, 2 Dec 2016

(2)    ‘Is integration really such a good thing?’, Giles Fraser, in ‘The Week’, 17 Dec, 2016


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